Ectopic Pregnancy (cont.)

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What is the health risk of an ectopic pregnancy?

Some women spontaneously absorb their ectopic pregnancy with no apparent ill effects, and can be observed without treatment. However, the true incidence of spontaneous resolution of ectopic pregnancies is unknown. It is not possible to predict which women will spontaneously resolve their ectopic pregnancies.

The most feared complication of an ectopic pregnancy is rupture, leading to internal bleeding, pelvic and abdominal pain, shock, and even death. Therefore, bleeding in an ectopic pregnancy may require immediate surgical attention. Bleeding results from the rupture of the Fallopian tube or from blood leaking from the end of the tube as the growing placenta erodes into the veins and arteries located inside the tubal wall. Blood coming from the tube can be very irritating to other tissues and organs in the pelvis and abdomen, and result in significant pain. The pelvic blood can lead to scar tissue formation that can result in problems with becoming pregnant in the future. The scar tissue can also increase the risk of future ectopic pregnancies.

What treatment options are available for ectopic pregnancy?

Treatment options for ectopic pregnancy include observation, laparoscopy, laparotomy, and medication. Selection of these options is individualized. Some ectopic pregnancies will resolve on their own without the need for any intervention, while others will need urgent surgery due to life-threatening bleeding. However, because of the risk of rupture and potential dire consequences, most women with a diagnosed ectopic pregnancy are treated with medications or surgery.

For those who require intervention, the most common treatment is surgery. Two surgical options are available; laparotomy and laparoscopy. Laparotomy is an open procedure whereby a transverse (bikini line) incision is made across the lower abdomen. Laparoscopy involves inserting viewing instruments into the pelvis through tiny incisions in the skin. For many surgeons and patients, laparoscopy is preferred over laparotomy because of the tiny incisions used and the speedy recovery afterwards. Under optimal conditions, a small incision can be made in the Fallopian tube and the ectopic pregnancy removed, leaving the Fallopian tube intact. However, certain conditions make laparoscopy less effective or unavailable as an alternative. These include massive pelvic scar tissue and excessive blood in the abdomen or pelvis. In some instances, the location or extent of damage may require removal of a portion of the Fallopian tube, the entire tube, the ovary, and even the uterus.

Medical therapy can also be successful in treating certain groups of women who have an ectopic pregnancy. About 35% of women with ectopic pregnancies are candidates for medical rather than surgical treatment. Medical treatment method involves the use of an anti-cancer drug called methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). This drug acts by killing the growing cells of the placenta, thereby inducing miscarriage of the ectopic pregnancy. Some patients may not respond to methotrexate, and will require surgical treatment. Methotrexate is gaining popularity because of its high success rate and low rate of side effects. There are certain factors, including the size of the mass associated with the ectopic pregnancy and the blood beta HCG concentrations that help doctors decide which women are candidates for medical rather than surgical treatment. The optimal candidates for methotrexate treatment are women with a beta-subunit (HCG) concentration less than or equal to 5000 mIU/mL. In a properly selected patient population, methotrexate therapy is about 90% effective in treating ectopic pregnancy. There is no evidence that the use of this drug causes any adverse effects in subsequent pregnancies. Additional tests (HCG) are usually ordered to confirm that methotrexate treatment is effective.

Although there have been a few reported cases of women giving birth by cesarean section to live infants that were located outside the uterus, this is extremely rare. The chance of carrying an ectopic pregnancy to full term is so remote, and the risk to the woman so great, that it can never be recommended. It would be ideal if an ectopic pregnancy in the Fallopian tube could be saved by surgery to relocate it into the uterus. This concept has yet to become accepted as a successful procedure.

Overall, there have been great advances in the early diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy, and the mortality from this condition has decreased dramatically.

Medically reviewed by Edmund Petrilli, MD; American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology with sub-specialty in Gynecologic Oncology.

REFERENCES:
Baakdah, H. et al. Diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy. CMAJ 2005; 173:905.

MedscapeReference. Ectopic Pregnancy.


Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/2/2013

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